Under ‘normal’ circumstances, employees may not be surprised when asked to adapt to changes in their company’s protocols, policies and procedures. However, COVID-19 resulted in employees and employers adapting to work scenarios far outside those normal scenarios. “According to Statistics Canada, 40 per cent of Canada’s workers found themselves working from home as pandemic lockdowns were enforced. That compares to less than 10 per cent in 2018 who had the option to work a day or two a week from home.“ (MacLeod, 2020) You may be one of the thousands of employees across Alberta who moved their workspace into their home, necessitating Zoom video meetings and remote work.
Alberta begun to reopen and relaunch into a new normal in May, with each relaunch stage seeing activities resuming and employees returning to the office. Whether you work in an office setting, in customer service or something in-between, you will find you must once again need to adapt. Harvard Business Review says of workplace transitions, “Manage your expectations with patience and flexibility so that each time something changes, you don’t become irritated or nervous.” (Carucci, 2020)
Staggered breaks, isolated lunches, physically distanced meetings and even wearing a mask at your desk may be part of the ‘new normal’ within your workplace. The Government of Canada explains, “In the workplace, this is not business as usual, so don’t get down on yourself if you’re having trouble working as effectively as you once did. There is no one right way to manage your mental health through a pandemic. Remember, you are not alone.” (Government of Canada, 2020)
Below are five tips to help you stay mentally healthy as you transition back to work onsite.
Cut yourself some slack
Don’t feel bad about experiencing stress symptoms. If you find yourself having trouble concentrating or feeling unmotivated, nervous or irritated, you may be experiencing stress compounded by the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends recognizing stress-related symptoms. Acknowledge stressful workplace situations and how you can better address them. Work-related factors which add to stress during a pandemic:
- Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
- Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
Mental health resources are available to help you manage workplace stress.
Keep your routine
As a remote worker, you had to establish your daily schedule, and it probably deviates from the standard 9 to 5 workday. You’ve used trial-and-error to learn how the day can be most productive for you. Use your discretion to determine which elements from your remote daily schedule can be transferred into your onsite workplace. “Naturally, some elements may be difficult to implement—say, if your routine includes folding laundry during morning conference calls—but if you typically designate your first hour to review industry news or tackle mundane tasks, stick with that. If you prefer to set aside time in the afternoon to tackle major projects, don’t hesitate to communicate this preference to your co-workers.” (Buell, n.d.)
Advice for work management is available here.
Embrace camaraderie and joy with your co-workers
With the return to the office, you and your co-workers can encourage and support each other. This is a chance to bond, commiserate and find humour, when possible. It’s also important to be helpful and empathetic with your colleagues during this time. Harvard Business Review recommends “When people innocently forget to follow a PPE protocol or fail to catch themselves when their ‘autopilot’ shows up, find goodhearted ways to laugh about it instead of getting frustrated. Doing these things won’t eliminate the stress of fighting a pandemic, but it will make the fight less intimidating as you bring joy to others, and in the process, to yourself.” (Carucci, 2020)
Filling your own cup allows you to move through your days mindfully and healthily. “While it feels like there is a lot we can’t control amidst concerns over the coronavirus,” advises Psychology Today, “every one of us can make choices to stay emotionally healthy. In the midst of a stressful season or situation, many self-care practices are the same ones that prove helpful in everyday living.” (Starbuck, 2020).
Self-care isn’t just bubble baths and naps. Although those activities might be helpful, you should also think about connecting with loved ones, eating nutritious foods, staying active, resting, engaging in enjoyable hobbies and employing healthy coping strategies such as prayer or meditation.
Follow these breathing exercises to help you relax and relieve stress. Download this guide designed to help you build self-care into your daily and weekly routine.
Ask for help
Your workplace may have employee support services for workers to utilize throughout the pandemic, such as an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), peer support groups or open-door policies. If you have it, use workplace health care options to cover counselling and prescription services. Speak to your managers or Human resources (HR) department and request a full description of employee mental health options available.
Talk to your family, friends or trusted co-workers about the way you’re feeling. Discuss different ways they can help support you in your return to onsite work. The people you live with may be able to help you transition to a new routine and your friends might be able to encourage you to participate in self-care after a long day at the office. Be open about the stress you’re facing and ask your support system to have a listening ear.
If you need crisis counselling, these resources are available 24/7.
Do you have strategies for returning to work among COVID-19? Share them with us on Twitter @cmha_AB.
Find additional mental health resources here.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
Carucci, Ron. (2020, July 6). How to prepare yourself for a return to the office. Harvard Business Review. [Article]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://hbr.org/2020/07/how-to-prepare-yourself-for-a-return-to-the-office
Government of Canada. (2020, June 2). Mental health and COVID-19 for public servants. [Webpage]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/covid-19/protect-mental-health.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 5) Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic. [Webpage]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/mental-health-non-healthcare.html
Starbuck, Margot. (2020, March 3). How to stay emotionally health during the coronavirus outbreak. Psychology Today. [Article]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hope-resilience/202003/how-stay-emotionally-healthy-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak
Buell, Rachell. (n.d.). Back to the office. The Muse. [Article]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hope-resilience/202003/how-stay-emotionally-healthy-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak
MacLeod, Meredith. (2020, June 15). Is the great shift to working from home here to stay?. CTV News. [Article]. Retrieved July, 2020, from: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/is-the-great-shift-to-working-from-home-here-to-stay-1.4981456?cache=yes